Back To The Future Was Almost Totally Different
Long ago, in a cinematic time that has since been forgotten, Director Robert Zemeckis and writer Bob Gale told us the story of a 17-year old time traveler named Marty McFly. His friend, the eccentric scientist Doctor Emmett Brown had a run in with some libyan terrorists and Marty gets sent 30 years into the past by the way of a time machine – made out of a DeLorean. It’s the type of movie that won’t be getting remade anytime soon. If at all. Everyone involved won’t let it happen. The film transcends. It transports. It’s an experience, and in fact, so is the sequel. Even the third film could be classified as an “experience,” but not for the same reasons that the first two are.
The film came out on July 3rd, 1985. It’s PG – which i gotta say, I never realized until now. They absolutely stretch this rating to it’s breaking point, especially by 80’s standards. It’s got a run time of 1 hour and 46 minutes and it’s ranked #45 on IMDB’s Top 100 Best Rated Movies and it’s got an 8.5 out of 10 rating based on the votes of over 760,000 members.The film stars Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, and Thomas F. Wilson. Produced on a meager budget of just $19 million, it still went on to make over $381 million. It won an Oscar and 18 other awards including Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actor, and Best Special Effects at the 1986 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror films award ceremony.
Some might not know that we almost never got to see the film though. The script was completed in 1981 and while Zemeckis shopped the idea around to every major studio over the next 4 years, it was rejected time and time again. Then after experiencing massive success with his hit film Romancing The Stone, he approached Spielberg who agreed to produce the project with Amblin Entertainment while Universal Pictures would distribute the film.
Initially, in the early versions of the script, the time machine was designed using a refrigerator and in order for Marty to return to his actual timeline he would need to harness the energy from a nuclear explosion at the Nevada Test Site. However, they decided to change it to avoid having children killing themselves by climbing into refrigerators. Einstein, Doc Brown’s dog, was originally a freaking chimpanzee. Also, the title of the film was almost changed to Space Man From Pluto. You can read the script notes Sid Sheinberg had for the 1984 draft here.
When anyone thinks of the movie, they see Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, the character and the actor have become one. Could you, even just for a second, imagine the movie without the iconic scene where Michael J. Fox jams out on stage singing “Johnny B. Goode”? Well, that almost happened. Any time traveling aficionado worth their weight in plutonium knows that Fox wasn’t part of the film at the beginning. Yep, at the time production started, Fox was filming the NBC sitcom Family Ties and since they wanted to move forward, they went with their second choice, Eric Stoltz.
The crew shot for a few weeks before coming to the conclusion that Stoltz did not match up with their vision of the film, but it wasn’t for lack of trying or skill. Stoltz was a dramatic actor and just didn’t have the comedic timing they wanted. So, they canned the poor bastard and brought in Fox who they had wanted all along. The saddest part of all this is that some of the key cast and crew members knew about his firing before Stoltz did. When asked about his time on set he said, “It felt like a long winter,” so he knew something was off.
To save time, the crew kept shooting. They used a bunch of close-ups on other actors that were actually filmed with Stoltz off screen feeding them their lines. Due to the fact that Stoltz was a method actor he remained in character even after the cameras stopped rolling and would only answer to “Marty”. When Christopher Lloyd was told Stoltz would be getting the boot he responded with, “Who’s Eric? I thought his name was Marty.”